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The Best Montessori Toys For Your Baby and Toddler

Updated: 4 days ago


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Montessori toys help instill an understanding of your child's world while giving them hands-on learning experiences. There are a variety of Montessori toys that will support your child's development in meaningful ways and help them get off to a great start in life.


This article will explain the Montessori approach to play and share our picks for the top toys for encouraging your child's growth!


In this article:


The Montessori philosophy

The Montessori approach to education was developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori over a century ago and has since been adopted by schools all over the world.


Montessori classrooms encourage independence, hands-on learning, and the development of practical skills. Children move around freely and engage in hands-on activities meant to teach them specific skills and allow them to explore concepts at their own pace.


A Montessori classroom with toys on shelves

Teachers are specially trained in Maria Montessori's philosophy and act as facilitators, guiding students while encouraging them to explore and learn through experience.


The Montessori method at home

The Montessori philosophy can also be adopted at home. Parents can embrace this method by creating a child-friendly environment in which they encourage independence, critical thinking, and unique exploration.


To successfully apply the Montessori method at home, it's important to have a clear understanding of the philosophy and principles behind it and to select toys and materials that are in line with the Montessori way of learning.


What Is a Montessori Toy?

Although this article refers to "Montessori toys" for simplicity's sake, there is not a prescribed set of specific toys for Montessori. Rather, Montessori-inspired toys can be any toys that serve the purpose and values of the Montessori philosophy.


Purpose

Montessori toys are not just about entertainment and fun. Rather, the Montessori philosophy uses toys that are designed to educate and promote a child's cognitive, physical, and emotional growth while helping them learn independence, practice self-discovery, and develop practical life skills.


Features

Key characteristics of Montessori toys include:


1. Focus on one skill

Montessori toys for younger children tend to be designed to help them focus on developing one specific skill at a time, such as putting the correct shape in a shape sorter. These toys give children a sense of purpose and satisfaction and encourage them to focus and independently correct their own mistakes.


However, open-ended toys—such as wooden blocks, magnatiles, play silks, and dolls—still have a place in a Montessori home. Open-ended play is particularly beneficial for children over 2.5 years, who have developed foundational skills and are beginning to use more creativity and imagination.


2. Developmentally appropriate

Montessori toys are intentionally designed to correspond with a child's developmental stage. They enhance different areas of a child's growth, such as gross and fine motor skills, language acquisition, problem-solving, and focus.


3. Encourage hands-on learning

The Montessori approach prioritizes practical, hands-on learning experiences. Montessori toys offer chances for children to participate in activities that encourage self-exploration and critical thinking.


4. Simple design

Montessori toys feature a simple and minimalist design. They deliberately avoid distracting colors or patterns, lights, and loud sounds because such elements can be overwhelming and distract from the child's interaction with the toy.


5. Use of natural materials

Montessori toys are usually made of natural materials such as wood, metal, and cloth. They are both visually appealing and tactile, fostering a connection to nature and the real world.


6. Sensory exploration

Relatedly, Montessori toys frequently incorporate sensory elements, such as different textures, which prompt children to utilize their senses for exploration and learning.


7. Teach practical life skills

Certain Montessori toys are specially designed to teach children practical life skills, like pouring, lacing, or buttoning. These skills are critical in allowing children to complete activities of daily life and fostering independence.


8. Rooted in reality

The Montessori approach favors toys and books that reflect reality, rather than make-believe. For example, Montessori proponents believe that it’s more beneficial for a child to play with a realistic figurine of a dog than a toy with a whimsical cartoon dog.


Montessori toy guide

Below, we discuss types of toys for different age groups that assist with Montessori-style learning. Even if you don't follow the Montessori approach strictly—or at all—these types of toys are still a great addition to your child's toy collection.


Keep in mind that many toys appropriate for younger children can also be used in different ways to teach more complex skills to older children. For example, a simple stacking toy can be used later to teach counting and patterns. For this reason, your child may still benefit from playing with toys that are not included in their current age range.


Montessori toys for babies (under 1 year)


1. Textured balls

Textured balls feature a variety of textures that are interesting to a baby’s small fingers (and mouth!).


A close-up of brightly colored textured balls

They provide sensory stimulation that can help young children improve their grip and develop their hand-eye coordination. While playing with these balls, children can differentiate between textures and colors, allowing them to refine their senses.


2. Stacking toys

There are many versions of stacking toys, but they generally consist of a wooden stand or base with one or more vertical dowels. The baby stacks wooden blocks, rings, or other shapes with holes onto the dowel.


A mother and baby play with a ring stacking toy

These toys develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and help babies learn to concentrate and solve problems.



3. Object permanence box

An object permanence box is a box with a small hole or opening for children to drop objects through and a lid or other opening for retrieving the object.


This fun and simple toy teaches babies and toddlers about cause and effect and object permanence, the idea that objects do not cease to exist when they are out of sight. It also develops fine motor skills and visual motor skills, the ability to use our eyes and hands in a coordinated manner.



4. Shape sorters

A young toddler tries to fit a shape into a shape sorter

A shape sorter is an excellent tool for Montessori learning because it encourages children to experiment with different shapes, sizes, and colors. As kids try to fit each piece into the corresponding hole, they're developing their hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and problem-solving skills.


Additionally, shape sorters promote shape recognition and classification, which are essential concepts for early math and science learning.



Montessori toys for toddlers (1-year olds and 2-year olds)


1. Bead sets

Stringing beads provides numerous benefits for young learners. As children grip and manipulate the beads onto strings, they develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.


A child's hands string large colored beads

Stringing beads also encourages concentration and helps to build a child's attention span as they work to complete a chosen pattern.


Just be sure to choose beads that are big enough. Smaller beads are harder and more frustrating to string and can be a choking hazard for infants and young toddlers.



2. Puzzles

Montessori-style puzzles are typically made of wood and feature a simple design without complicated or cartoon pictures. They come in a variety of styles and levels, from simple knobbed puzzles for toddlers to more complex geometric, letter, and number puzzles for older children.


A child's hands work on an alphabet puzzle

Puzzles offer many benefits for children’s growth and exploration. By encouraging problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness, they help children build essential skills.


For Montessori, puzzles should provide just the right level of challenge for each child's developmental stage, allowing them to progress at their own pace and feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete each puzzle.



3. Climbing toys

A boy climbing a Pikler triangle

Simple climbing toys, like the Pikler triangle, provide an opportunity for kids to develop a variety of skills, including analytical abilities, spatial awareness, gross motor skills, and core strength.


4. Stepping stones

A teacher holds a boy's hand as he steps across stones

Stepping stones are another great toy for developing gross motor skills, balance, coordination, and spatial awareness.


5. Practical life materials

A main goal of Montessori education is encouraging kids to be independent and able to complete activities of daily life.


A young girl uses a broom and dust pan

For this reason, materials that help children learn to independently complete tasks for themselves are an important tool. Such materials can include the following:

  • Pitchers and cups for pouring their own water

  • Dressing frames, to help kids learn to fasten and unfasten their own clothing and shoes

  • Simple cleaning tools. You can save money by using simple items you already have at home, such as sponges, spray bottles, and dish cloths.



How to use Montessori toys

Montessori toy rotation

Toy rotation means regularly switching out the toys in your toddler's own playroom or area for others that are kept in storage. You simply place 8-10 Montessori toys on a shelf within your child's reach, then exchange them for other toys every few weeks.


Rotating options and empowering children to choose their toys from a limited set has several benefits:

  • Promotes independent and engaged play

  • Reduces distraction caused by having dozens of toys available and allows children to focus

  • Prevents boredom from seeing the same toys every day

Cleaning up

Cleaning up is an important part of Montessori play. In a classroom, students follow a sequence for play that involves taking a tray with an activity off of the shelf, bringing it to a work mat, engaging in the activity, and placing the activity back on the tray and on the shelf when done.


Even at home, you should encourage your little one to follow a version of this sequence and put each toy away when they are finished.


Frequently asked questions

1. What are Montessori toys?

Toys that fit the Montessori philosophy are designed to help children learn independence, practice self-discovery, and develop practical life skills. They are simply designed using natural materials, developmentally-appropriate, and focus on developing one skill at a time.


2. What age is appropriate for Montessori toys?

There are Montessori toys designed for children from birth through early elementary school. The earliest Montessori toys for a baby may include simple rattles, textured balls, and soft books. Toys for older children generally focus on teaching letters, numbers/math concepts, and real life skills.


3. Are Montessori toys better?

When used the right way, Montessori toys can have significant educational value. However, many other toys and common household items can be equally beneficial for children. Ultimately, toys are only one factor in a child’s development and interaction with caregivers is also critical.


4. What are the best Montessori toys?

There are a variety of Montessori toys for different ages. Great options include:

  • Textured balls

  • Shape sorters

  • Object permanence boxes

  • Lacing beads

  • Puzzles

  • Climbing toys like a Pikler triangle

5. How many toys should a child have for Montessori?

The Montessori method encourages toy rotation, in which the child only has access to 8-10 toys at a time. They can have more toys in their collection, but the rest should be put away. Every few weeks, switch out the toys that are available so there are always only 8-10.


6. Why are there no plastic toys in Montessori?

Montessori toys are typically made of natural materials, such as wood, fabric, or metal, but plastic toys can also be used with the Montessori method. The key is to select very simple toys—without distracting decorations or battery-operated functions—that focus on developing one specific skill.


7. Do Montessori toys have to be wooden?

Montessori toys are typically made of natural materials, but they do not have to be wooden. Wood is a favored material because it is safe, durable, and helps children connect to the natural world. However, Montessori principles can also be taught using non-wooden toys.


8. Why are Montessori toys so expensive?

Montessori toys can be expensive because they are often made of wood, high-quality, and not mass-produced. However, simple plastic toys that fit the Montessori philosophy are also available and are often less expensive.


9. Are Melissa and Doug toys Montessori?

Melissa and Doug manufacture a variety of toys, mostly made of wood. Many of the simpler toys are appropriate for a Montessori home, such as lacing beads, shape sorters, stacking toys, pattern blocks, and simple puzzles.


The Takeaway

Educational Montessori toys can be a great way to foster independence, practical skills, and critical thinking—all skills that will be important for your child's future.


At the same time, it is important to remember that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Each family has their own approach that works for them. Even if you decide not to fully adopt the Montessori method, it may be helpful to introduce some Montessori toys into your child's collection.


Bio of Kavita Naik Cherry

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